The Federal Government has been accused by the Nigeria Labour Congress of delaying the negotiations on post-subsidy palliatives for workers four months after the fuel subsidy was removed which has compounded the hardships in the country.
Organized labor will on 26th September(today) hold an emergency National Executive Council meeting where it will make decisions on its next steps in response to the perceived lethargy.
The NEC comprises all presidents, general secretaries, treasurers of all NLC’s affiliate unions; state chairpersons and secretaries of the NLC state councils, chairperson of the NLC Youth Committee, and members of the National Administrative Council.
A top official of the NLC, who spoke with one of our correspondents on 25th September, hinted that the congress might take drastic action to compel the FG to return to the negotiation table.
A two-day warning strike on September 5 and 6 had earlier been embarked on by the labor union in readiness for an indefinite strike to press home its demands.
The union consequently scheduled an emergency meeting of its NEC for 26th September(today) after the 21-day ultimatum issued by the congress expired on 22nd September 2023.
The notice of the meeting dated September 22, 2023, signed by the congress’ General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja, urged the presidents, general secretaries, and treasurers of its affiliates to attend the virtual session which it said was of utmost importance.
Earlier before the meeting, state chapters of the NLC had said they were ready to mobilize their members for full participation if the NEC declared a strike.
The NLC and the Trade Union Congress among other things, were asking for wage awards, implementation of palliatives, tax exemptions and allowances to the public sector workers, and a review of the minimum wage.
On June 19, the president, Bola Tinubu, set up the Presidential Steering Committee and various sub-committees to discuss the framework to be adopted for the palliatives.
The FG’s commitment to restructuring the framework for engagement with organized Labour on palliative and the eight-week timeframe set for the conclusion of the process expired in August without taking action.
Eight weeks were given to the committees to conclude their assignment and hasten the implementation of the framework to cushion the effect of petrol subsidy removal on Nigerians but sub-committees had yet to meet or actualize their mandates, weeks after the timeframe expired, leaving the NLC and TUC leadership frustrated.
Joe Ajaero, the National President of the NLC had complained that “none of the demands put before the Federal Government had been addressed.’’
A top NLC official who spoke on condition of anonymity told The PUNCH that the FG had been given sufficient time to act, noting that it was now four months since the subsidy was removed without any action taken by the FG to assuage the workers’ pains.
He stated, ‘’It is for the government to do the right thing; the government has been given a long time to act and it is four months since the petrol subsidy was removed.
‘’It is only private sector employers who were telling the government to reach an agreement with us, and they were also kicking against the strike because they are apprehensive any labor action will affect them but it is going to affect everybody, not just the private sector.’’
The source repeated that the NLC had not changed its stance on the demands presented to the government.
He said the NEC would take decisions on the way forward, advising those opposed to a possible strike to prevail on the FG to meet the needs of the people.
Stating that the NEC meeting would decide whether the strike would be immediate or not, he said, ‘’The private sector employers have refused to give wage awards, saying that they want the Federal Government to lead the way. Therefore, they should have asked the Federal Government to lead the way.’’
He added, ‘’However, because the employers have refused to pay, they are waiting for the Federal Government and they are happy that the Federal Government has not met NLCS’s demands.’’ The Trade Union Congress has said it, waiting for feedback from the Federal Government following last week’s post-subsidy removal negotiations.
The TUC, led by its National President, Festus Osifo, during a meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, on September 19 said workers were facing enormous pressure that is making life very difficult.
Onyeajeocha, the Minister of State in the company told the TUC that after their last meeting, he met with President Bola Tinubu to highlight some of the issues raised by organized labor.
The TUC was appealed to by him to exercise more patience, explaining that before the President left for the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he was fully informed and he gave further directives on the implementation of demands put before him when he met with the labor leaders.
The National Vice President of the congress, Tommy Etim, while speaking with the correspondent on 25th September, explained that the union was expecting the outcome of the minister’s deliberations with the President.
He said, “During our last meeting with the minister of labor, we were told that the President was out of the country and would need to be back from the UNGA before our messages would be passed across.
‘’As of now, we have not been reached out to but we are waiting for the outcome of the meeting between the minister and the president. We have been assured that we will get feedback.”
When asked what the FG was doing to meet the union’s demands, the Minister of Information, Idris Mohammed, simply said, ‘’No cause for alarm. Engagement is still ongoing.’’
But ahead of the crucial NEC meeting, the state chapters of the NLC in Katsina, Niger, Kwara, and Zamfara States have expressed their interest in attending the meeting.
Husseini Hamisu, the Chairman of the Katsina state chapter of the NLC, pointed out that the NEC would determine the next line of action to be taken by the members of the union in the state.
“The NLC NEC meeting is being held in Abuja on Tuesday (today). Our next line of action would be determined by the outcome of the meeting. We don’t need to jump the gun. Call me in the evening and I will tell you what our action would be.
“Everybody knows that Nigerians are currently undergoing severe hardships and organized labor has been at the forefront, agitating for a better life for Nigerians. We, however, have to follow procedures in doing things. Let us wait for the outcome of the NEC meeting,’’ he stated.
Besides, the Niger State Council of Congress clarified that the meeting would determine the next line of action that would be taken by Nigerian workers over the alleged refusal of the FG to meet their demands.